Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg
Presented by and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 28-Dec. 3.
The misogynistic, mystical, mentally disturbed August Strindberg was hardly your boy next door, and his 1901 "A Dream Play" is a disturbing, difficult work, filled, in his words, with "incongruities and improvisations." In Robert Wilson's surrealistic production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the juxtaposition between altar and hearth that also appears in the starkly religious yet yearningly domestic films of another Swedish genius, Ingmar Bergman, merged in a three-hour evening that was itself like a feverish sleep into which a viewer was soothingly lulled only to be shocked awake.
Performed in Swedish with English surtitles, the latest piece from the avant-garde Wilson consisted of 13 gorgeous tableaux, mostly in bleak black and white. Against this background, Wilson told Strindberg's tale of Agnes, the daughter of Indra, a Hindu deity. Descending to earth—"this dark and heavy world lighted by the moon"—she discovers human pain, suffering, pleasure, and love. The final scene, a mirror image of the opening, counteracts "the agony of being" by fusing human regrets with the desire to build anew.
The actors, members of Stockholm's Stadsteater, precisely followed Wilson's signature deliberateness. Everything was calibrated—glacial movements, vocal portamenti. (In a mad coincidence, the performers recalled Alan Ayckbourn's robotic actors in "Comic Potential.")
Yet all was not doom and gloom: there were funny, even vaudevillian moments. Toward the end came the evening's most haunting scene, as characters sent their favorite belongings skyward.
Although emotional involvement was minimal, the combination of Wilson's direction and set and lighting design with Michael Galasso's music, Ronald Halgren's sounds, and the masks and severe costumes by Jacques Reynaud made for an unconventional evening where decor overrode any Strindbergian sense of plot.
It's the kind of production you're glad you saw once—and once only.